Last seen on a New York stage in Catch Me if You Can, Aaron Tveit (Les Misérables) set off an internet scrum when he announced a series of concert dates at 54 Below in the month of May. An intimate venue, a handsome young star, and squeeing girls everywhere (and probably a few of their Moms) broke the internet to get tickets. The shows sold out as soon as tickets were released.
Last night was the first night in the concert series and Tveit did not disappoint his fans. Structuring the show around the trajectory of his career, from one of his high school musical theater shows (West Side Story) to the roles he made famous on Broadway, he offered his audience many of the songs they were eager to hear and a few unexpected twists. He wanted this to be a show full of songs that had personal meaning to him and showed his love of music.
He performed songs that he is oft associated with like I'm Alive (Next to Normal) and Goodbye (Catch Me If You Can). He sang a number of musical theater classics including If I Loved You (Carousel) and My Romance (Rodgers & Hart, Jumbo), as well as more recent musical theater works like Hero and Leander (Myths and Hymns) and Run Away With Me (The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown). But a self proclaimed "pop music fan" he mixed in Bruno Mars's When I Was Your Man, Bob Dylan's Make You Feel My Love, and Joni Mitchell's A Case of You.
The song that brought down the house was Taylor Swift's We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together. Complete with eye rolls and finger wagging, he got in touch with his most petulant inner teenage girl to hilarious effect. After singing Sondheim and Guettel, he did point out in the middle of the Swift song to the audience that "These are the real lyrics by the way" which got a big laugh. The audience happily joined in in singing along with the chorus.
Many friends and family were in attendance at the first concert and the show, for a while, felt very respectful and formal--and there's nothing wrong with that. Tveit has played some serious young men on stage and the numbers from those shows reflect it. But the irreverent spirit of the Taylor Swift number and Tveit screwing up the lyrics to another number seemed to loosen him up, played well to the crowd, and upped the entertainment ante.
Speaking of his mentor and idol, Norbert Leo Butz, he decided to perform, as an homage to Butz, I Could Be In Love With You, a song cut from The Last Five Years which Butz has performed (including at 54 Below). About three-quarters of the way through the song, Tveit blanked on the lyrics and stopped the number and said, "Now you can tell Norbert I totally fucked it up." He ran over to his musical director for lyrical assistance and finished out the song. It's a bit of a neurotic and comedic song and he handled it well. It showed his performance range and made me wonder how he would be in lighter fare (I never caught him in Hairspray).
I'm very much a newcomer to his work but you cannot come away from this show without thinking he's a consummate musical theater professional with a gorgeous voice. For me I was partial to Run Away With Me, What You'd Call a Dream, and My Romance. But if trapped on a desert island with any of the songs from last night I'm pretty sure I'd die on that island happy. I'm looking forward to the album he will be recording from these 54 Below shows.
And for those who respond more to the visual than the aural, he looked pretty damn fine in his light gray three piece suit with his one hair curl that would fall out of place and land on his forehead against his wishes.
For the completists among you, here was the set list from the May 3rd show:
I'm Alive -- Next to Normal
Something's Coming -- West Side Story
If I Loved You -- Carousel
Make You Feel My Love -- Bob Dylan
When I Was Your Man -- Bruno Mars
What You'd Call a Dream -- Diamonds
One Song Glory-- Rent
There's a World -- Next to Normal
Hero and Leander -- Myths and Hymns
I Could Be in Love With Someone Like You -- Song cut from The Last Five Years
Run Away With Me -- The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown
She's Always a Woman -- Billy Joel
A Case of You -- Joni Mitchell
We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together -- Taylor Swift
Goodbye -- Catch Me if You Can
My Romance -- Rogers & Hart, Jumbo